A New War On Internet Freedom
Following the Paris terrorist attacks, overt attention has been applied to radicalization and homegrown terror networks in Europe. There have been international calls to go to war with ISIS, followed by a UN Security Council call to “do everything necessary” to defeat the Islamic State. But another war is being waged more subtly, underneath the hype and frenzy portrayed by media. There is a war being waged against the internet that could end the age of free, open communication and free speech as we know it.
The message we're seeing in mainstream media is that ISIS is recruiting people from all around the world to wage a holy war against Western countries and their citizens. The underlying implication being hidden in plain sight is that the internet is mostly to blame.
“They're a bunch of killers with good social media.” – Barack Obama, November 22
“We are up against an ideology. This won't be solved militarily.” – Chuck Hagel, November 22, CNN
“We must ensure the internet does not become a recruiting ground.” – Indian PM, Narendra Modi, November 22
“They are really trying to use the internet and social media to intimidate and beat us psychologically. They're using the internet in an extremely offensive and inappropriate way.” – Republican Congressman, Joe Barton, November 17
“Asher, who was studying in Australia, was persuaded by ISIS ideology through propagandistic recruitment YouTube videos that the group was publishing online.” – Dorian Geiger, “This Is How ISIS Uses Social Media To Recruit American Teens” in Teen Vogue, November 20
“I say that, since this is sort of the first internet fueled terrorist group, ISIS is very agile and quite adept at using the internet. We have to, equally so, stand up for our values and stand up for who we are as people.” – Hillary Clinton, November 22
“ISIS is using the PlayStation 4 network to recruit and plan attacks because it is more secure than WhatsApp, intelligence experts warn.” – Thomas Burrows, Daily Mail, November 15
Just in the last few weeks of November, media and politicians on all sides have mentioned the internet in their rhetoric about ISIS. Although no one (except Republican Congressman, Joe Barton) has openly suggested internet censorship, the narrative has become loud and clear in the past few weeks. The idea of the internet as a dangerous and open recruiting ground for terrorists is becoming the most prominent underlying conversation.
No politician or talking head has to offer a solution to the dangers posed by internet freedom. It'll only be a matter of time before ordinary people start drawing up their own conclusions and solutions that would put limits on the freedom and openness of the internet. Whether the intent is to open more minds to internet surveillance or eventual censorship isn't obvious, but remembering that the internet has been under surveillance since 2001 leaves us more prone to believing the latter.
The next emerging narrative could be one that suggests the failures of internet surveillance. In such a case, it would likely compel world leaders and media to start offering other solutions.
The idea of limiting free speech has become prevalent in colleges and universities across North America. The growth of PC culture on campuses has been thoroughly documented in the past few years. A Pew Research poll found that 40% of millennials support limiting free speech. Those numbers are at odds with the views of older, non-millennials. The numbers get more grim on college campuses in the US, where 51% of students support speech codes and “trigger warnings” to prevent hurt feelings. These statistics make the eventual acceptance of internet censorship more believable and less inconceivable.
“Even though a larger share of Millennials favor allowing offensive speech against minorities, the 40% who oppose it is striking given that only a quarter of Gen Xers (27%) and Boomers (24%) say the government should be able to prevent such speech.” – Pew Research, November 20
The PC culture combined with the growing fear of radicalization over the internet will eventually take the world toward a future with limited internet accessibility and publishing rights. This scary reality can be traced backwards in history as something that has been in the making for years. We can look at the United States' recent move to reclassify the internet as a utility, putting it under stricter regulatory control by the federal government. Under the guise of “net neutrality” being a harbinger of a more free and open internet, the reclassification actually gives the FCC more power to control how internet is provided, who it's provided by and how much it should cost. Similar regulatory powers over the internet have already existed in Canada for over a decade, which some have blamed for making Canada's internet more expensive and less efficient than what's available in the United States.
Around the same time as the new net neutrality rules imposed by the FCC, the United States announced that it would be ceding its control of ICANN, the non-profit organization that controls the assignment and management of internet domains. After the contract between the US Department Of Commerce and ICANN expires, ICANN will be open to stakeholders from around the world.
Censorship of the internet can take many forms. It would start with limiting radical Islamists from publishing content, but it would eventually expand to restricting ordinary citizens from publishing content or starting their own websites. This would likely be done under new laws and rules imposed by grown-up college students, their grown-up children and grown-up grandchildren who were raised to fear offensive speech. It's time for everyone who values internet freedom to take note of these recent events and be wary of the suggestions being made by the mainstream media and politicians.